This would have been a loss that might have lasted, lasted for a couple more games, then just another six months or so.
When the Phoenix Suns not only are slowed down but forced to a complete stop, the opposition must pull away. Opportunities like the one that emerged Wednesday for the Lakers are as common around here as snow days.
One game after scoring 39 points in the first quarter, the Suns didn't reach 39 until the third quarter. It was as if they were playing in waders, waders that had sprung leaks and were filling with water and trout.
So there the Lakers were, opening a 17-point lead in the second quarter, causing an entire arena to squirm as if sitting too close to a campfire. But, as Coach Phil Jackson pointed out before the game, "We're just an unpredictable team."
So there the Lakers also were, in the second half, clutching to Kobe Bryant's heels and desperate three-point dispatches from Lamar Odom and Sasha Vujacic and somehow doing the impossible. They indeed stopped a rising Sun.
This 99-93 victory made the Lakers playoff relevant again. And, although they aren't going to win a championship and, likely, not even this series, at least they're now on the board and have the Suns' attention.
This postseason experiment looks a lot like a postseason series now. Had the Lakers lost Wednesday, fallen behind 2-0, NBA history says they would have had only a 4.2 percent chance of coming back to win it. Now? Nothing can be stated as emphatically as Bryant dunking violently over Steve Nash, but this matchup has a chance to become very interesting.
"It's just youth, playoff inexperience," Jackson was saying before tipoff. "We're such a young team that they fall prey to the experience Phoenix has."
As the third quarter unfolded and the Lakers unraveled, they of course reverted to being spectators, joining the rest of the arena in observing Bryant, who, fortunately for this team, isn't young or lacking in playoff savvy.
He spun and lunged and scored on a layup. He hit a long jumper, then a longer one to nip the shot clock. The Lakers, clinging to a lead that shrunk to as little as three points, needed every ounce of Bryant.
For the start of the fourth quarter, Bryant walked onto the court and lightly tapped his chest, over his heart, and encouraged his teammates. They apparently were watching - and listening as he slapped palms with each.
The Suns pushed to within three points in the final two minutes. But in the next two deciding sequences, it was Kwame Brown hustling for a loose ball and passing to Odom, who then passed to Smush Parker for a layup. Next, it was Luke Walton rebounding a Phoenix miss, being fouled and converting both free throws.
"We're such a young team, we're still learning," said Bryant, who, in NBA years, is 27 going on Kevin Willis. "But I'm enjoying the process, watching the young guys grow. This is a lot of fun."
Yes, Lakers fans, we're a long ways from Shaquille O'Neal here. Sure, this night was a lot Bryant, but it wasn't wall-to-wall Bryant, and for that the Lakers have to be encouraged. Odom finished with 21 points and made 9 of 12 shots. Jackson: "Lamar was terrific. He bailed us out a few times tonight."
The game's storyline was set late in the first quarter when a question was answered. Specifically, what do you get when you slow the Suns to a painful crawl? The New York Knicks. "We played about as bad as we could," Suns coach Mike D'Antoni said. "We were on our heels on defense and offense."
And now the Lakers are involved again, officially back in the playoffs as winners. They come home for the next two games with little to lose.
That's all because they didn't lose Wednesday, when the speedy Suns were just another stalled car along the highway.
Pistons 109, Bucks 98
At Auburn Hills, Michigan, Tayshaun Prince scored 22 points and Chauncey Billups had 20 to lead Detroit over Milwaukee and take a 2-0 lead in their series.
Mavericks 94, Grizzlies 79
At Dallas, Dirk Nowitzki scored 31 points and Dallas took a 2-0 lead in its first-round series against Memphis, which has never won a postseason game.